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U.S. Banks’ Leverage Should Be Halved to Cut Risks, Bair Says

Banks should be required to reduce by half the amount they can borrow against equity to make the financial system safer, according to former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.

Bair called for a “hard-and-fast” leverage ratio of 8 percent in “Bulls by the Horns,” her memoir of the financial crisis published this month. That’s double the 4 percent ratio U.S. banks must adhere to currently and more than twice the 3 percent called for by new global rules on bank capital.

Lenders could borrow about 13 times their equity, based on Bair’s suggestion, compared with 25 times under existing U.S. rules. Bair, 58, who stepped down from the FDIC last year, was a proponent of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision introducing a simple leverage ratio, which ignores the riskiness of different loans in setting minimum capital requirements. While the Basel committee agreed on including such a ratio, European countries have balked at implementation.

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